November 29th – The Day After Perihelion

10.00: Comet ISON… oh, you tease… why are you doing this to us?!!

After the heart-in-our-mouths drama of yesterday, things are inevitably a little calmer today. The experts have stopped tweeting and updating Facebook pages every few minutes, and I’m not getting a “can I see comet ISON from where I live?” email from India every ten minutes. But to be honest, we’re no nearer to knowing what has happened to – and what will now happen with – Comet ISON than we were when I finally went to bed in the small hours of this morning.

There’s now no doubt that *something* survived perihelion passage around the Sun. Images taken about an hour or so after perihelion – when most people had started writing their ISON obituaries – clearly showed a feature, or an object, moving out of the Sun’s vicinity and drifting away…


Since then more and more images have been taken, like these…



… and they are giving many ISON watchers real cause for hope, because whatever it is seems to be brightening, and, maybe even growing a tail..? This fantastic pic which I found on the internet (and can’t find the source, sorry) shows brilliantly what happened…

BaO98oECQAIdTWf.jpg large


In other words, it’s…well… behaving like a comet…! But is it?

There are several options, several intriguing possibilities. “It” could be just a cloud of dust and grit, continuing to move along ISON’s predicted path, which will now just slowly spread further and further apart until  it vanishes altogether. Or is it the comet’s battered and beaten nucleus, vastly reduced in size and activity by its solar mugging? Or is it something in-between – a cluster of nucleus fragments, moving along together like a kind of cloud of mini comets? I don’t know, I’m no expert myself, but it’s going to be fascinating watching it over the coming hours and days and finding out…

Of course, the question everyone is asking is WILL WE STILL SEE SOMETHING IN THE SKY NEXT WEEK?

Honest answer? We don’t know. That depends on what that…thing… is.

Look at it…


If that is just a gravel stream it’s very unlikely we’ll see anything in the sky, because over the next few days that stream will just drift apart until it’s a cloud and then keep spreading further and further apart until it’s gone. However… if it is one of the other two possibilities – a single, battered nucleus or a cluster of fragments  – then maybe, just maybe, we’ll see something in the sky after all. WHAT we might see is the £64m question. I personally think that if we see anything at all it will just be a very faint, very small comet, through binoculars or a telescope.

Bottom line? I may be wring, and I obviously hope I am, but I don’t think that the beautiful long “like a search beam in the sky” comet of our pre-perihelion hopes and dreams is possible anymore now. ISON took one hell of a battering as it rounded the Sun, and whatever is left must surely be too small and stripped of so many of its volatiles that it can’t regrow an enormous tail and “turn on” enough to be a bright object in the sky. No. I think our chance of seeing a truly Great Comet, like the ones seen in centuries past, is now lost…

But we may still see something. Whatever is heading away from the Sun now is following the same path as the original ISON would have followed, so the charts for December are still relevent.

Is it still worth looking? That’s entirely up to you.

Many will give up on ISON now. They’ll have read the stories about it breaking up, and being fainter than before, and think “Right, I’m done with it; if I can’t see it right in front of my face, from my garden or my front door I can’t be bothered.” But for the rest of us this is now an exciting challenge. Ok, we had all been looking forward to going somewhere dark, looking east and whispering “Wow…!” at the sight of a bright naked eye comet which was just there, in front of us, shouting “Look at me! Look at MEEEEEE!”, but now looking for ISON is going to take some work. Now it becomes a hunt, a test of faith and endurance. Only the dedicated and determined are going to be looking for ISON in the next few days, getting out into the countryside or up a hill before dawn to look for…something…glowing above the eastern horizon before sunrise.

Are you one of them?

ISON captured the imagination of both astronomers and public alike. By yesterday everyone was talking about it. Some were talking absolute rubbish about it of course – the fake Prophets and Ranting Pastors and BPEarthwatchers, the Mountain Wolves and their deluded scientifically ignorant followers – had tried hard to make the comet into something it wasn’t, but failed, and finally, after months of spouting utter BS, fell silent on Perihelion Day, their inane and insane ravings drowned out by the voices of the scientists and the knowledgeable. My own blog, this one you’re reading, had an incredible number of visits from people all around the world desperate for news and advice on how, when and where to look for the comet. Just look at this…


Yes, it was a brilliant day..!

Then, and after all that… this uncertainty. ISON looked like it had shaken itself to bits, but then it, or part or parts of it – emerged from, the glare, and is even now, as you read this, flying away from the Sun, cooling down, the savagery of perihelion falling away behind it…

ISON may yet surprise us. It may yet flare back into life, grow another tail, and reappear in our morning sky and delight us, albeit in a more subtle way than we had been expecting. But rather than be disappointed by that, rejoice in it! For the best part of a year we have all watched a 4.5bn (yes, billion!) year old chunk of ice, snow and grit flying towards the Sun, a visitor from the coldest, darkest depths of our solar system. We watched it get brighter. We watched it grow a tail – stubby and faint at first, but eventually it began to grow and grow, unfurling behind its green head like a glowing medieval banner, growing longer and brighter and more beautiful every day… Then yesterday, on our computer screens, tablets and mobile phones, we all had front row seats for the astronomical show of the year as we watched the comet make its long awaited approach to the Sun, sharing the experience online with countless thousands of others, seeing pictures just an hour or so old, reading reports and comments from some of the world’s most rested comet experts as they saw the same images. It was a global event. The first true People’s Comet, I would dare to suggest…

But ISON’s epic tale is not complete yet. Something survived perihelion, and is now moving away from the Sun.

Don’t go anywhere. The second act of this drama is about to begin…


17.15: Looks like we have us a comet…

Look at this, hot off the press…

16.11 Nov 29

A little closer…

16.11 Nov 29_cr

Oh come on, come ON… I know the jury is still out, they need more data, etc etc, but that’s a comet, isn’t it? Doesn’t that look like a comet to you?

( By the way, if you’re thinking “Hang on, I thought comet tails always point away from the Sun… that one isn’t…” well, firstly, well spotted, and secondly, the tail is pointing away from the Sun, even if it doesn’t appear to be. You see, ISON is currently behind the Sun as seen from Earth, so we’re looking kind of down the tail. It’s a perspective thing. )

Obviously things have calmed down a lot since the madness of yesterday, and people are now quietly looking at the new images and trying to make sense of them. Looking at the Tweets from @Sungazer Comets (the Tweet handle for cometary scientist and CIOC blogger Karl Battams) what’s becoming a little clearer is that whatever survived the trip around the Sun is now producing dust, leading to the formation of the – I really hesitate to call it a “tail” but can’t think of another word, so “tail” will have to do – tail coming off the..thing… on the picture above. And it looks like Karl is being asked the same question I am (a lot!!) because earlier today he tweeted this…

“For those asking, we really are not comfortable in speculating on naked eye visibility or not. Just give us a few more days! We’re on it…

…and that’s the Big Question isn’t it? What happens next? No idea. ISON is a crazy, crazy comet. All we can do is keep watching the images being sent back by SOHO and other space assets, and then wait for some hardy amateur astronomer somewhere to spot something glowing softly low down in the pre-dawn sky. That’s what I’ll be trying to do tomorrow morning – forecast for a lovely clear morning here in Kendal, so it would be unthinkable not to try, wouldn’t it? – and I’ll let you know how that goes. In the meantime, with apologies to my fellow comet watcher and friend Daniel Fischer, who I know is already sick to death of the whole “Comets are like cats” thing, I couldn’t resist taking this photo of Chi pondering the fate of her “distant relation”…


42 Responses to “November 29th – The Day After Perihelion”

  1. Always great to catch up with you (ISON, Oppy, etc.) and get your take. Thanks for the great job. –Jim

  2. Thanks for the update. That is the same video I saw(and many others) that have given me enough hope to be up for the challenge of finding ISON. I found it in my scope at a dim +9.5 magnitude. Again when it was around +6. In binoculars when it was +4. So I have no problem with at least attempting to see what ever may be left of ISON. I continue to look at Lovejoy c/2013 r1 and am going to try to find c/2012 x1 linear and c/2013 v3 Nevski. They are all within range of my scope. Comet hunting is great fun, even if they don’t measure up to the hype. I just have to wait for some clear skies. The weather conditions have frustrated me far more than ISON has.

    I look forward to your updats over the next few days.

  3. After ISON has gone, will you still keep this blog alive and kicking for all the future comets that come our way please?

    This blog really has been an absolute thrill and a treat. You’ve done something quite amazing Stu, and brought this whole subject alive in a human and engaging fashion. I will continue to read and follow this blog for as long as it is here.

    There will be another comet soon, and one that will shine like a beacon in the sky. I’d love to be sure this blog will be there too to keep us informed and updated.

    You really have done and continue to do a fine job Stu. Many thanks for all the effort and interest you’ve ploughed in to our Waiting For ISON blog. I for one have loved every single minute of it!

    • Thanks for those kind words, I really do appreciate that. Don’t worry, the blog will go nowhere for as long as ISON is in the sky, and visible through a telescope. I’m not going to abandon it after all it’s been through! After that, well, more than likely the blog will go into a hibernation pod, and should another bright comet come along I’ll thaw it out and we’ll start on a whole new adventure. I won’t use it for other astronomical events cos I already have a blog for general astronomy. But for now, WfI is here and going to walk alongside ISON every step of the way, wherever the journey takes us. Glad to have you along. 🙂

  4. ITS ALIVE!!!

    I just had one question running in my mind. A comet’s tail always point away from the sun but based on the latest images, the comet had two tails and is looking larger than before…

    MOST LIKELY: ISON will live out to its name as the comet of the century

    MORE LIKELY: ISON turned into a cluster of snowballs

    LIKELY: ISON is dead for good 😦

    14:13 11/29/13

    ISON’s brightness, size, shape, appearance is constant! It looks like the chances of survival is spiking up again.

    “Awww! Quit playing, you silly comet.” Says Markeister the Tarsier

    Link is here:

    • What I see thru a careful analyzation of the two recent photos:

      -The true tail seems to be moving the way it should
      -The nucleus is fuzzier in the new photo. Plus, it shrank a little
      -The other tail is somewhat slowly fading away
      -It looks bad and good: Low brightness, Fuzzy nucleus, good tail, moving on the right track

      My prediction is that the chance of survival is 40/60

      • I have a hypothesis on ISON:

        ISON brightened up before perihelion then it became like a slim toothpick before entering the C2. Recently, it came back as a big, bright object in the C3. “Brighter than Antares” according to james.

        What if ISON, like Mercury, had extreme temperatures on both sides so that the hotter side got burned off but the colder side kept its shape enough to slingshot its way around the sun?

      • Well, it’s as good as any other theory 🙂

      • Hey, I’ll take those odds over “It’s Dead” :-0

  6. The latest SOHO images show a fairly bright object, brighter than Antares. If it can hold out a while longer we will certainly see something in the December predawn skies. Right?

  7. I understand that a Great Comet scenario is probably out of the window now, but does ISON still have the potential to outshine Panstars?

    Does tomorrows hunt begin in the next twelve hours (tomorrow morning) or the day after (1st December) Stu?

  8. What is your other blog?? I cannot live without reading your words!

  9. Wow ISON is a zombie…!!! I was so disappointed i thought it was dead, then i got up and looked on the computer and saw that it had lived.. i was soo happy

  10. Isn’t ISON a scinch “in front” of the Sun from an Earth perspective? Meaning what we’re now seeing “tail”-wise is kind of coming towards Earth? Quick graphic I put together-

    Guessing these tails might flip to the right in the next few days, but I don’t really know a lot about such details. I don’t even know where SOHO is in relation to Earth and the Sun right now.

  11. Wow I wonder what happened to it? If you look at the STEREO images (sorry I don’t have the link) you see an area of large solar activity. As soon as ISON passes that active spot it seems to partially “disintegrate” and its tail seems to fan out. It kind of reminds me of Pan-STARRS earlier this spring with its fanned out tail. I just wished the STEREO images where crisper!

  12. Great updates Stu, I enjoy your words and sense of humor. Hope your hunt tomorrow brings home a nice prize!

  13. In the previous blog I promised to eat my hat if ISON was not ISOFF… seems like I have to keep my promise now… Does anyone have a good recipe for grilled hat?…………..

  14. Dear Stu, I am so grateful for all your hard work put into this. It is the best place to find the truth of what’s happening with ISON. Thanks for your honesty about whether you are optimistic/pessimistic on the outcome. Good job. Still hopeful for a show worth seeing!

  15. Dear Stu,

    I searched for ISON during the day on 11/28/2013 and 11/29/2013, but the blazing Las Vegas Sun was just too bright. It was hopeless.

    I looked again at sundown on 11/29/2013, since the comet was more separated from the solar disk. At 4:26 P.M. (local time), I could see Venus (magnitude -4.86) easily with binoculars. The Star Map 3D+ app on my iPhone 4S said that ISON was also in the sky at the time, low in the southwest. Since ISON was still not visible, even with binoculars, and I was looking right at its position, I conclude that we are dealing with an object dimmer than Venus. My sense is that ISON is probably a positive magnitude object – hopefully not as dim as a deep sky object like M15!

    Fortunately, I was able to see ISON on 11/15/2013, just before dawn in the southeast. I used a 4-inch Newtonian reflector. ISON looked like a greenish version of M13, but smaller. In fact, I would say that ISON is the greenest, most compact comet I have yet seen. As for the magnitude of ISON at that time, I would say that it must have been about +5 (slightly brighter than M13).

    I also saw ISON on 11/16, 11/17, and 11/18, but bright moonlight at my back made the tiny greenish smudge harder and harder to see.

    I tried again on 11/24 and 11/25, after many days of clouds and rain, but the low altitude of the comet and the glow of dawn prevented success.

    I’m noticing that the comet has been rising with the Sun (at least on the iPhone screen!) these last few days. Will ISON rise before the Sun at my location (Las Vegas, Nevada, USA) in December, or is that only for you lucky folks in the far north? I had similar problems with the sungrazers Lovejoy and McNaught – it seems that only observers with far northern and southern latitudes had any success!


    Gerry Francisco

  16. Is it a naked eye object tomorrow?

    I’ll go sleep early tonight hoping to see a bright object in the sky!

    • Quite unlikely. It is now fading into a magnitude of about 5. It is still too close to the sun to be seen easily at such magnitude.

  17. I went out this evening to try to find a nice clear view of the horizon, just in case, I didn’t want to miss an amazing site if it existed. Of course we can always count on Stu to bring us any images that might be available. I am near Sacramento California and with all the light pollution, smog…and have I ever mentioned that they call Sacramento the city of trees!!!!! Good Cosmos! At any rate, I’m hoping for some slim hope of a tail in the coming days, evenings and mornings and I will probably have to drag myself and my telescope out somewhere on Hwy 99 north to get a glimpse of this….hopefully..It’s still fun and what a ride!

  18. Question: If there is still a significant fragment of the nucleus left and assuming it is on the same trajectory, after returning to the outer reaches of the solar system, will it return again in 5 million years, or will it be flung out of the solar system altogether?

  19. Dear Stuart,

    I empathized very much with your post “My first view”. It encouraged me to get my first—and so far only—binocular view of Ison. I also got to see Lovejoy in the bargain.

    I publicized this blog to colleagues on the “Eyes on Ison” campaign in India. So if I contributed to all those emails every 10 minutes, my apologies…

    Your link to Helioviewer, which I did not know about earlier, provided me reliable images when the Soho webpages were difficut to access. I also like the detailed images you put up for “Perihelion day” and “The day after”.

    We have a social information medium with outstanding delivery capabilities, but we don’t yet have a social verification process which takes this information and makes judgements which can be relied upon. When getting contradictory signals from the net, people look for additional information to make up their own minds, and it is important to have access to good data.

    A few questions to think about still.

    1) There seems to have been an update of the eccentricity, and I read somewhere that a period of around 500000 years is now being touted. If that is so, Ison is not an Oort cloud object, right? The period seems too much to be a Kuiper belt object as well. So where does it come from?

    2) We are told that the tail of a comet is caused by the solar wind pushing ions and dustgrains out of the coma, 180 degrees from the direction of travel during approach. But when a comet is less than a couple of solar diameters from the Sun, the solar wind is quite strong at around 90 degrees to the direction of travel and the axis of the tail. What happens to the geometry of forces and optics during this time?

    3) If a comet nucleus loses, say, 50% of its mass, shouldn’t its orbit change?

    Best wishes and thanks,

    08:18 11/30/13

    Time to carve his headstone for good 😦

    It looks like the prediction that what we see is just a ghost and a powdered ISON is true…

    I’ll try to make a ballad for ISON 🙂

    • What I learned from ISON:

      -It came from the deep freeze of the Oort Cloud
      -Not all sungrazers end up as Comet LoveJoy
      -Comet ISON is a CRAZY comet who, like a mocha frappe with three shots of caramel, woke up and sent the tens and thousands of people to grab their kaleidoscopes and telescopes to see the comet that was named “THE COMET OF THE CENTURY”
      -A month of waking up early is better than never seeing the comet after all
      -ISON gave the thing that we needed the most: HOPE
      -It doesn’t have to go fill the sky with a bright tail and a sun-like head to become a Great Comet. To gather everyone everywhere in the same goal of finding and seeing that rare comet, now thats what makes ISON a Great Comet


      Forgot the link. My bad

  21. Seems ISON we thought has survived is just dust and gas. It’s dissipating away. Or, the last chunk has run out of material. So it is getting fainter as it moves away from the sun.

  22. Like a comet
    Blazing ‘cross the evening sky
    Gone too soon

    Shiny and sparkly
    And splendidly bright
    Here one day
    Gone one night

    Born to amuse, to inspire, to delight
    Here one day
    Gone one night

    – From the song “Gone Too Soon” by Michael Jackson

    Au revoir, ISON….

  23. I hear that ISON can bring an end to the world, and the true end is supposed to be 16 december 2013.

  24. Thank you for the info. Just heard about this today. I really don’t watch the news and yet seeing all the negativity on YouTube. Just kinda creep me out. But not reading your post. I’m at a state of mind and more relaxed so can you please keep the post going thank you.

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